I know there is a possibility that I will be accused of certified lunacy, but I need to state the following: I think animals, particularly dogs and cats, are a type of angel that has been sent from heaven to make us better painters. Not only better painters but better people.
For me, the evidence is pretty conclusive. Let’s face it, the job is a solitary one even in the best of times. Having some sort of an eminence, even a little gray one is vital to the maintenance of sanity. My previous dog was a Kerry Blue Terrier. She lay behind me on her chaise lounge as I painted. I will swear on a stack of early editions of National Geographic that when my brush made a boring stroke or redundant movement Kelly would let out a subtle combination of a sigh and a yawn. It wasn’t an out and out criticism; it was just, you might say, a recommendation. I can’t tell you how many times I took her advice.
The current companion is an Airedale named Emily. There never was a better studio assistant. Let me count the ways: She forces me not to neglect the cardio-vascular. She barks and wards off interlopers and announces and greets the check-bearing post-lady. She thinks I am just fine the way I am. She asks only that I paint steadily and leave her the same chaise lounge that Kelly formerly held — only temporarily allowing me its comfort when I must myself curl up and talk to someone else. She is not jealous. She will go with me to the ends of the earth. She helps me with my sense of play. She is seldom verbally critical, and only with good reason. When she needs to be serious, her brown and beguiling eyes have in them the goofyness of her race — which makes me smile.
PS: “Dogs are the role model for being alive.” (Gilda Radner)
“If you need a friend in Washington, get a dog.” (Bill Clinton)
Esoterica: Dogs are the most successful species. Over the millennia they have developed a symbiotic relationship with man. They offer humans complementary abilities; morphic knowledge, intuition, sense of smell, character evaluation. They teach discretion and loyalty.
The following are selected correspondence relating to the above letter. If you find value in any of this please feel free to copy to a friend or fellow artist. We have no other motivation than to give creative people an opportunity to share ideas and possibly broaden their capabilities. Thank you for writing.
A pack of evidence
I have a dog and a cat. The dog is in my studio and is my link to the world, never mind the radio. She is always in the way as she is under my table, the cat likes to sleep under the chroma lights and it is a duel as to who wins — mostly them. Just keep the cat off the painting! Animals are an artist’s link to reality. They keep you focused. I talk to them, and they give me feedback in one way or another. Maybe that is dumb, but it works! (Mary Ann Mountain)… If you want to see a broken heart then look at me when my lovely “Spud” died three years ago. A true uncomplaining friend who loved me more when I came back from hospital and needed all the love I could get. I miss him so much. (Bill Gilhooley)… Your story reminds me of the time when I was studying for university examinations at home in the company of a large Alsatian. It was an all-night partnership and yes, my dog also gave out incomprehensible “comments” when I was struggling to get my maths equations. At other times when I was reading fun subjects he would doze peacefully and make his presence known by “talking” in his sleep. (Kalwant Ajimal, London)… We don’t have a dog but a guinea pig and a bird. They both have their unique characters and each in his own way brings perspective to our lives. There’s nothing like a bird on your head eating your hair to make you realize how serious life is otherwise. The guinea pig eats his way through 5-6 lbs of food a week and doesn’t do much but remind us that he needs to be paid attention to and loved and spoken to. (Mary Jean, California)
It seems to me that animals provide humour and sanity when I may be losing mine. As you say, it’s the “goofyness” that pulls the rest of us through the gloomy or rough patches. When you said that, I recalled King Lear’s need for the fool to help him “see” clearly. We all need a fool or two. (Wendy Weaver, Vermont)… What a story, full of life and encouragement, from the bottom of your heart! It’s amazing how something so simple can have such great impact. My dogs paint with me. I have 5 of them. Your story really encouraged me. I’m actually really looking forward to getting into the paint immediately. (Deb Copithorne, Alberta)
(RG note) As several artists asked what I meant by morphic knowledge, I’ll try to explain. Morphic fields are perhaps a plausible explanation of some of the unique capabilities of animals. Blind termites seem to have a collective knowledge of how to rebuild their knocked-down nests — and do it quickly and efficiently. British studies have videotaped dogs at home alone waiting for their masters — along with simultaneous tapes of masters out and about, shopping, etc, and then randomly returning home. At home, the dogs go to the window and begin to wait when the master starts to think about coming home. These tests were done under rigid conditions. Cats have this ability too, but cats perform less well on the tests because, apparently, cats don’t care as much. Tests also indicate that some humans have the capability too, although it is weak and sporadic through perhaps lack of use. It’s sort of a Jungian collective consciousness idea, which is of interest to artists, very much in the speculation stage.
by Ralph Newcastle, Florida, USA
I take my dog with me when I’m checking out galleries. Depending on how well he is accepted and treated helps me in my decision. You can tell a lot about a person by how he or she reacts to animals. One time my dog growled at a would-be dealer, so I steered clear of that one.
(RG note) For a long time a dealer in another city owed me some money. Finally he paid by sending a collection of frames. These were all odd sizes, with purple velvet liners, etc — very difficult to do anything with. I stacked them around the studio to think about things. My dog, a poodle at the time named “Hombre” came in and helped me make up my mind by lifting his leg on them.
by Yaroslaw, Moscow
The cats especially have supersense and superaction for human soul as receiving it from the angels that have been sent from heaven. I know not is it the same in the Canada but the Russian cats are very emotional persons. They are singing sometimes soul-incoming songs. These have spiritual potential with strong action for human soul. The action of different animals for human soul is not the same. For example, I personally have receiving the interesting influence from large red roosters.
The curative action of horses is well known. Those are important possibilities to use for creative persons.
by Alicia Moss
Some aid dogs are companions to those with epilepsy. The dog can sense when her companion is about to have a seizure — something about brain wave activity. The dog alerts the human and gets her into a safe position like sitting down on a bed. We other lucky humans who are capable of interspecies love are TOTALLY blessed in that we are reminded of our empathy and comforted by our intuition. I wonder if this comes more naturally to those with artistic sensibilities?
PS: I have been ill. I am not in bed today but getting extra sympathy from my dog. She brought her kong into bed and bopped me on the head with it. Then she came over and hugged me at breakfast like she hadn’t seen me in a week.
Fish and chips
by Simon Javez
I have fish. While they are not responsive in the same way as dogs, cats and other furry things, they do have their place. When I’m upset about my work, or undecided what to do next, I come downstairs and sit in my easy chair beside my aquarium. Something about their movement calms me and refocuses my energy. They are restful, simple beings, and I have to say that they have had something to do with my success.
by Cissy, Seattle
My cat Gabby shared my studio. She was always willing to let me know what she thought about my paintings. When I was working on some children’s books I had several illustrations that I was having trouble with lined up against the wall while I was trying to decide what else they needed. I left the studio to give my eyes and mind a break. When I came back Gabby had knocked over the illustrations that were not working. She was right. I miss her. We had her for 16 years, and I am now ready to see if I can find another furry angel to share the studio with me.
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